Many theories on university structures have strongly underlined the need for universities to be re-organised in a more flexible form to better respond to rapidly changing demands in their environment. Adaptation, opportunism, and income generation are among the list of strategic keywords for universities to successfully increase their self-reliance in their changing environment. As a threshold matter for their organisational adaptation, universities have to react by flexible strategies to various requirements and threats. To specify the requirements of strategic flexibility in European universities, I examined strategic changes and strategical actions in European universities through the institutional evaluation reports of the EUA.
In my recent article published in the European Journal of Higher Education, I analysed EUA reports for 21 universities from seven European countries. The analysis reveals that the sampled European universities follow similar strategies in organisational management, quality assurance, teaching/learning, societal service, and internationalisation. However, environmental factors such as economic conditions, demographic changes, the industrial/business sector, and higher education (HE) regulations and the universities’ institutional characteristics lead to differences in their strategic perspectives. European-wide policies and practices also influence their strategies related to continental integration and international visibility.
The factors outlined above add various requirements to the institutional strategies of sample universities, which have to adapt them to meet contemporary threats and catch developmental opportunities in their environment. I integrated the findings into a node map to summarise the requirements of strategic flexibility in universities’ core performance areas (Teaching and Learning, Quality Assurance in Teaching and Learning, Research and Research-Based Teaching, Service to Society, and Internationalisation) and Governance and Decision-Making process. However, European universities need high-level institutional autonomy to be able to update their goals and actions in each of these strategic areas and operate timely organisational changes to catch new opportunities. For this reason, policy-makers should review the HE policies in their countries to generate more space for universities to design their own financial strategies, management structures, internal quality assurance operations, and staffing systems.
Furthermore, European HE authorities may contribute to strategic flexibility by overseeing the effect of national HE policies on universities, and they should continue to develop policies and practices that induce university autonomy. On the other hand, higher university autonomy alone does not ensure the formation of a comprehensive strategic framework in European universities. Therefore, European university managers should take the unique characteristics of their institutions into account when designing strategies and operations to respond better to changing demands in their environment. Europe-wide HE units can also disseminate examples of effective strategies and successful institutional actions integrated by universities so that other universities can incorporate them in their strategic framework, if appropriate.